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The Yo-Yo Man

When Sam was born, I was stuck.  I don’t mean that I didn’t know what to do and I had to ask someone for help, that sort of thing.  No, I mean that I was physically stuck.  If the doctors had had their way I would have been hooked up to blood transfusions and been literally rather than metaphorically tied, but me being me, I wasn’t.  Instead, I was wobbling around the ward waiting for what seemed like an eternity to go home.

It’s a strange fact that the maternity ward, like every other hospital ward when you are feeling better, is the most boring place on the planet.  There is nothing to do.  Having expected to be in and out in a flash, I, like many of my similarly confined peers, had not thought to bring any entertainment with me.  There were no smart phones, there was no Twitter or Facebook.  There wasn’t even a telly.  And anyway, if you took yourself off to the rather tatty common room to find one, there would be nothing on, and, if, by some miracle there was something a person might like to see, you could bet your life that the baby would need something, like feeding or washing or changing or something else equally important.

For me, after the drama of birth, the period post-partum was characterised by stillness.  For him, for my husband, for the new daddy, it was anything but.  He rushed around, fetching all the things that I hadn’t thought I would need (like shampoo and conditioner – as well as being boring, the maternity unit is the Hottest Place Ever and a nightmare for those of us with curly hair, ensuring that we have much bigger hair than we would like), and attempting to prepare the house for our return.  And all this needed to be completed in the three days paternity leave he was granted (two of which was taken up by me being in labour).

For us both, the arrival of Baby Sam signalled a revolution in our circumstances.  In preparation, we had given up jobs, upped sticks and moved house, started a new life entirely.  From being a young, professional, DINKY couple, we catapulted ourselves into traditional roles that, on the one hand, liberated us from having to think about logistics, but on the other, put us in places where it was difficult to understand the experience of the other.

For a while we played the ‘my life is more difficult than your life’ game, especially when baby number two came along.  I would long for the freedom of time alone in the car on the way to work, of conversations with adults that weren’t interrupted by screeching or disasters involving poo.  He longed for the freedom of choosing what to do when, a release from the clock watching of flexi-time, the indescribable boredom of meetings that dragged on and on and ate into teatime.

By four o’clock, and the start of the most difficult couple of hours of the day (between tea time and bed time) I was longing for his return.  By four o’clock, the lowest point of the sleepy pocket, he was longing to come home.  Until, that is, he put his back out and was at home for a couple of weeks.  Four o’clock wasn’t quite so attractive after that.

Our emotional landscapes were different too.  For us both, discovering that our baby had an extra dimension meant that Anxiety entered our lives in a big way.  We entered into the adventure of parenthood, as does everyone, in a state of innocent expectation that everything would be easy (apart from broken nights and nappies); something that disappeared the moment we heard the words ‘Down Syndrome’.  Was he too hot?  Was he too cold?  What were those noises?  Why had he stopped making those noises?  Was he breathing?  Sleep eluded us even when the baby was snoring.

But, being in sole charge of the baby, managing to keep him alive, and, even better, seeing that he grew and developed, learned, did wonders for my confidence.  After the Fiasco of the Broken Leg, I returned to only extreme levels of concern when we visited playparks with the sort of equipment that encouraged Falling Off, but daddy remained on high alert.  Thanks to the distance created by breadwinning, he wasn’t with him enough to calm down for some time.  He still gets the jitters; worried that he’ll run off, or get lost, or find himself in the middle of some muddle or another.

I was the one who did the hospital visits, the check ups, hearing and sight tests, the overnight stays.  I was the one who was delivered there, and stayed, until someone came to rescue me and take me home.  I held all the information in my mind, the growth charts, the consequences of low oxygen levels at night, the development checklists; his height and weight and shoe size.  I was the one who sat, enthroned upon the sofa, feeding the baby.  He was the one who rushed about, bringing in the bread, backwards and forwardsing, yo-yoing between public individual and private family man, some days never even getting the chance to get out of his tie before I, desperate for a bit of peace and quiet, left him holding the baby while I walked around the block.

When Sam was born, and we found that we were dealing with a bit more than we had bargained for, we acted as one instantly.   We knew that it wasn’t us that had to live with a life changing condition, he , our son, did; but thanks to our experiences we knew how to.  We knew that it wasn’t so much his genes that guaranteed his life chances, as the solid, loving foundations we could give him.  But the knowledge was easily buried under the pressure of day-to-day living.

It was only as we left traditional parenting behind, when I went to work and he took days off so that he could be there when they were sick, or take Sam to see the paediatrician or take a hearing test, when I had to learn to transform myself, every time I returned from my place of work, back into mummy from the moment I stepped through the door, when we walked in each other’s shoes, that  we fully understood each other.


Happy Father’s Day.




Out of the Ordinary

I’ve never been a huge fan of testing.  My husband, who is diabetic, has to do it all the time.  Several times a day he pricks holes in his fingers, checking his blood sugar levels.  It’s a way of life.  I’ve had my share of blood tests, but nothing in comparison to him.  There have been few times in my life when I have been ruled by the phlebotomist.

Those times have been most recently characterised by fear and uncertainty, I have to admit; fear of what the results might mean.  The tests never had any significance the first time round.  Back then, when I was expecting baby number one, I submitted my innocent arm without a second thought.  I had no idea what a ‘high risk’ verdict might be, or of how I would feel about the prospect.

After Sam was born, and Down Syndrome was diagnosed, the pair of us, daddy and mummy, came under considerable pressure to undergo all possible tests.  Why wouldn’t we, after all?  Why would we want to risk going through the same trauma, the same heartache, if there was a way of avoiding it?

If we could only test the chromosomal makeup of our children before they arrived then we could save ourselves an enormous amount of trouble.  Couldn’t we?  I mean, they’d never disappoint us by dyeing their hair, getting themselves pierced, doing badly at school, would they?  They’d always stay in some sort of state of perfection, never needing glasses or hearing tests or fillings, wouldn’t they?

They’d never break their legs, or bump their heads, or develop life limiting diseases.  They’d never get involved with people who don’t love them, stay out too late, or puke all over the floor because they drank too much cider.  They’d like the same music we do, dress in clothes we approve of, get the right hairstyle, eat the wholemeal sandwiches and the salad, drink the water.

And then we could be sure that they’d all progress nicely through the system.  They’d all travel up the Straight Line of Progress, never deviating from the norm, rubber stamped with acceptability from the moment they entered the world.  They’d never need new school shoes in the half term before the end of the year.  They’d never make a hole in their trousers in the first week of term.  They’d do as they were told when we wanted them to and not after ten minutes of nagging.

They’d never develop that annoying little habit of having a will of their own, a different agenda.  They’d never confound us by finding the strangest things interesting.  Digging.  Little bits of ribbon.  They’d eat up the tea we had lovingly provided for them.  Frankly, adult life would be an awful lot easier if no-one ever told them about the word, ‘no’.

All we’d need to do, then, is carry on with our obsessive testing and checking for normal progress.  Because they all come out the same, don’t they?  And we have such control over how or when they develop and what they learn, don’t we?

And when they don’t perform the way we think they should we are ready with our labels.  Because if we’re giving them A, B and C and they’re not getting to D there must be something wrong with them, mustn’t there?  If we stick a label on them we can categorise to our hearts’ content, check and tick off a whole new set of measures, and if they don’t live up to them we can hardly be blamed, can we?

But really, we’d rather they all stuck to the picture perfect plan for childhood.  We’d rather they trotted off to school as soon as they were four, bright eyed and ready to learn, so that we could hurry back on with our own lives, pay our mortgages.  We’d rather they absorbed the lessons we planned to teach them, so that then we’d be able to prove what outstanding teachers we were.  And continue to pay our mortgages.

Because then we’d be able to boast about what wonderful adults we were, parents and teachers, with our perfectly sleeping babes, our children who learn to read in the prescribed way, at the prescribed time.  We’d look at each other and smile in self-satisfaction at ten-out-of-tens, top-of-the-classes, exceeding all sorts of expectations.  We’d be able to congratulate each other and bask in the reflected glory of our progeny.

Wouldn’t we?

This post is now part of this month’s #blogsynchproject. Thanks, @edutronic_net